Thursday, March 26, 2009

Relationships & Self Discovery

Many years ago, I taught a class at the Brown Learning Community at Brown University. The title was “The Psychology of Marriage and Intimacy.” One of the books used for that class was authored by David Kantor, “My Lover, Myself: Self Discovery Through Relationship.” The other day I ran across my outline for the course and decided to reread his book from 1999. I highly recommend this as an important work about intimacy and relationships.

My entire life has been working with relationships at home or at work. In my role as a spouse, father, son, brother (and on it goes) consultant and therapist I constantly bump into myself as I bump into others perceptions and expectations. Sometimes this "bump" is experienced as bliss, rapture and flow. Other times the bump feels more like "banging your head against the wall." The moment of head banging are less about others and more about my own internal family system of perceptions, judgments and admonitions. When relationships really hurt, I know that my deep shadow "stuff" is at hand. One thing is for certain, relationships are a fertile ground for self-discovery and personal growth.

At dinner parties I sometimes meet folk who ask what I do for a living. The reactions to "psychotherapist" vary, but inevitably I will run into someone who will state in a challenging tone, "I don't believe in therapy!" I smile and gently ask them if they are married or a parent. When they say yes I reply, "You are already in therapy. You just don't know it!"

All significant relationships are a learning laboratory. They will eventually bring to the surface exiled pain from your past hurts (if you are not asleep). But if you allow your relationships to confront your exiled hurts, a deeper healing can occur that isn't likely living in isolation.

Here are some tools for the journey adapted from David Kantor’s “tools and principles for staying on track” and I would add living consciously.


Tools for the Journey

  • The pursuit of being right usually results in being alone.


  • Learn that it isn’t about being right – it about learning to learn.


  • Shift your strategy from attacking to evoking – from changing someone to understanding


  • Shift your strategy from placating and stonewalling to engaging and getting curious.


  • Shift from judgment to being curious (about yourself and others).


  • Avoid blaming – take responsibility for self understanding.


  • Seek not the original cause – it can’t be found.


  • If it is to be found, it is usually within your own internal family system.

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